As a child of the ‘70s and ‘80s, I’ve come to the point in my life when my celluloid, musical and literary heroes are approaching old age. Some of them are dying naturally, like David Bowie, who had cancer, and Dr. Wayne Dyer, who had leukemia, while others choose to end their own lives, such as Robin Williams. Regardless of how it happens, each time I learn of another death, I am faced with my own mortality.
This time, it’s Keith Emerson, the keyboardist of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, who committed suicide. His music was introduced to me as a teenager by my first boyfriend, who must be riding a wave of bereavement. “Brain Salad Surgery,” “Trilogy” and “Love Beach” were albums---bodies of beautifully composed music---he suggested as I longed for intricate ways to orchestrate my hormonal dance of puberty. I felt as though I was faced with an ongoing crisis surrounding my creativity and uncertainty about how to use it well. Emerson’s music helped guide the way.
Emerson was 71. His body was discovered at his home in Santa Monica, California, where he shot himself. Greg Lake, his former bandmate, said he wasn’t shocked when he heard the news. In fact, Lake said Emerson had suffered from depression since the late ‘70s when the band was beginning to fall apart.
“I think it’s a very difficult thing to actually describe what depression is,” Lake was quoted as saying, according to Express online. “We all know what it looks like; people’s moods become very black. But it’s more complicated than that. It changes someone’s personality.
Apparently, Emerson also had trouble with substance abuse, which made matters worse. However, although music was his main purpose, he was deeply troubled, especially when after the band broke up, his music appeared to have less of an impact.
Lake also reported that Emerson had developed a degenerative disease that caused him to lose control of some of his fingers, which made keyboard playing difficult. Although it may not have been the main reason Emerson gave up hope and chose to end his life, Lake said it contributed to his depression. He also offered sound advice to others in need of guidance.
“All I would say is that if anyone does have feelings like that, of being so desperate that they think it’s better off not to wake up tomorrow, then please, go and talk to somebody - the doctor, your friend, anybody,” he said. “Talk to them and tell them what state you’re in. If Keith had taken that path he might still be here today.”
More young people must recognize suicide as a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Everything is temporary. Emerson’s death makes me sad, but for the fact that he lived 71 years. It’s especially troubling when a young person takes his or her life, and it happens entirely too often.
Youth suicide is the second leading cause of death of people ages 10 to 24. More teens and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, flu, and chronic lung disease combined, according to The Jason Foundation website.
The Jason Foundation Inc. was founded by Clark Flatt, the father of Jason Flatt, a 16-year-old who committed suicide in 1997. The foundation acknowledges and supports the fight against youth suicide.
The good news is that four out of five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs, which indicates the potential to be avoided. The bad news is many of these warning signs go unnoticed or worse, disregarded.
But no matter the age, pay attention to the people you love. If they need help, help them get the guidance they need. Life is too short to begin with.